The rucksacks were placed on the roof while we sat inside. The bus. There were several of them. With 20-25 students and one instructor thrown in each. We sat together – MRP and I. We left Darjiling early in the morning. We would reach Yoksum (in Sikkim) by early evening. As the bus moved, we recalled the past week that had flown by so quickly. So swiftly.
A few students were not coming with us – for different reasons. For example there was this guy Shanty from Hyderabad who had told me how he had to fight with his bosses to get a month’s leave. But he felt too weak after the first week to continue. Then there was this guy who had slept off on the first day when the principal was addressing all the students. ‘There, that guy in black t-shirt with the Indian flag. I don’t think my speech is that boring. Get up’, the principal had blurted in a sharp tone. But if you ask me, the speech was actually kinda boring, you know. I remember very little about all that he had said anyway. No wait. I do remember something. ‘Make friends. Make friends. Make friends’. The principal had said this at least a few hundred times. Oh and something more. ‘When we send you for outing, don’t get so drunk that the police has to call me. This has happened here once, and if that happens again, the only thing that we can do is send you back. And there is just one more thing I would like to say. Live in peace. Don’t fight. Make friends. Make friends. Make friends. And just one more thing. Make friends’. So anyway, I was telling you about the guy who slept off during Principal’s speech. During the 100 ft rappelling, he broke his fingers. And so he had to pack off. So, some students packed off, while rest of us left Darjiling. Yay.
Somewhere between Darjiling and Yoksum, it was time to have ‘packed lunch’. A packed lunch was basically the extra breakfast that had been given to us in the morning – served in the mess-tin. That was the first time we used our mess-tins. We found it funny. Eating in these same mess-tins was going to become a painful act that we would go through everyday. Soon. But back then, on that first day that we used it, it was funny. The food was cold but we liked it. We liked everything that day because we were excited to see what the base-camp was all about. Excited to learn snow and ice craft. Excited about life.
The bus journey was fun. We sang many songs. In India, students always sing songs when they move in a bus together for an excursion. Except that too many Nepali songs were sung that day. Kancha o Kancha. Something. Somthing. Sarkari Jagira. O oye oye. O oye oye. Something Something.
In Yoksum, the rucksacks had to be unloaded from over the roof. Someone climbed up and started passing on the ruck-sacks to me, as I stood on the ground. I would hold one ruck-sack at a time, place it safely on the ground and then throw up my hands in the air to catch the next rucksack. One of the ruck-sacks that was lowered to me weighed a million tonnes. It just didn’t stop in my hands. It slid down my body and kissed the ground on its own accord. Except that in the process, it separated the ear-holders of my goggles from the eye-shades. Awesome. The trek hadn’t even begun and in one go, I had broken the only shades I had brought. There was no place in Yoksum I could buy a chashma from. To avoid snow-blindness at base-camp, I would later have to borrow shades from others (you cannot go to the glacier without shades – and without proper dark shades).
There were two people with the same name in our batch. One a shy guy from Bankhuda who wore rainbow coloured woolen socks. The other a tall bulky guy from Noida who had been working in a software company in Mysore since quite sometime, and believed he was the heaviest person in the batch. He probably was. Mr. Mysore. Anyway, so this Bankhuda was washing his face at the only tap near our camp-area when he realized there was something going on inside his rainbow coloured colourful woolen socks. Guess what we found when the socks were removed – blood, blood and ugly blood. The goddamn place was full of leaches and Bankhuda was not the only victim. But he was the one on whose feet I saw maximum blood. I was extremely psyched out the whole of that evening and kept checking my shoes and socks for signs of leeches every 7 seconds. Thankfully, they never attacked me. Or MRP.
Where we slept that night was nothing but a dilapidated, empty, unused, dirty set of concrete rooms and halls without any doors and windows. The girls had a proper house allotted to them though. So, inside the open structure that I just described, the men and the boys placed their rucksacks, unfolded the green yoga mats and rolled out the smelling sleeping bags. The first night that we slept inside our sleeping-bags during the course. Another first-timer activity awaited us when we got up the next morning.
We got up at four or five in the morning. Yes, that early. It was the first time we were supposed to go to ‘number one’ and ‘number two’ in the open. For no. 2, the rule that had been made clear was – a. dig a pit, b. shit inside, c. cover the pit. To execute a) and c) – we had been asked to carry our ice-axes. LOL. So that’s pretty much what I did with my ice-axe for the first time. Covered my shit. Ha ha. And when the shitting and covering and thereafter, eating was done, the trek began. Finally.